Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Tom Poland captures sights and stories of the rural south



Tom Poland

Tom Poland

Tom Poland grew up in rural Georgia near the South Carolina border. He is attracted to the back roads and the countryside of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, which he fondly calls “Georgialina.” Poland is a former employee of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and serves as managing editor of South Carolina Wildlife Magazine. Poland has written 14 books and more than 2,000 magazine features and columns.

Poland’ lives a life outdoors and his heart is in convincing his readers that peace of mind, fascination, and inspiration comes from getting away from cell phones, concrete highways, electrical lines, and tall buildings and gaining a greater appreciation for the natural world all around us. He believes we tend to move too fast these days, speeding along concrete interstates, stopping only for gas and drive-thru fast food. The forests, swamps, marshes, and inland waterways of South Carolina are a just a blur alongside these paved roads, and most of the time we focus only on the road in front of us, not the natural world around us.

Poland’s most recently published works include South Carolina Country Roads: Of Train Depots, Filling Stations & Other Vanishing Charms (2018); The Last Sunday Drive: Vanishing Traditions in Georgia and the Carolinas (2019); and Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious, and Majestic Landforms with photography by Robert C. Clark (2020).

In South Carolina Country Roads: Of Train Depots, Filling Stations & Other Vanishing Charms, Poland takes his readers to “a place called obscurity.” He sets off in his car with his camera and captures some of the most idyllic places in South Carolina, some representing a different time when people’s survival depended on the land and streams in our state.

Poland writes, “We can all make a back road journey, and we should, for the pace slows along the back roads. When you travel a back road, your gas mileage goes up and your blood pressure goes down. Easy to stop when you feel like it. Open your windows and inhale the freshness of the newly mown hay. Smell the fertile fragrance of rain pelting craters in a dusty dirt road. Listen to the melodic singing of the catbird. Discover Rose Hill, an old southern plantation. Visit the past a bit.”

In The Last Sunday Drive: Vanishing Traditions in Georgia and the Carolinas (2019), Poland shares something older generations remember quite well, the afternoon Sunday drive. Poland writes, “This book recalls that time when people devoted Sunday afternoons to visiting relatives and sightseeing. Revisit ways of life, places, institutions, and people that made the 1950s, the 1960s, and early 1970s memorable. Sundays back then were times when people had some free time, a time when few cars had air conditioning or seatbelts.”

Carolina Bays: Wild, Mysterious, and Majestic Landforms is a study done in partnership with photographer Robert C. Clark of the rare and unexplainable landforms known as Carolina Bays. Poland and Clark spent six years exploring on foot the Carolina Bays in South Carolina and the Southeast Region. Poland recorded notes of the wildlife and vegetation they found, and Clark captured the beauty inside every Carolina bay on camera.

A Carolina bay is a unique and mysterious landform. Each has an enclosed oral, elliptical shape, and they all point in the same northwest-southeast direction. They were called “swamps on a hill” in the past and have standing water only provided by rainfall. The bays sit above the water table and are known as the world’s most mysterious landforms. There are hundreds of them in South Carolina.

Robert Clark captures the vibrant colors of the vegetation and species in the over 150 photographs in the book. Some of the more well-known Carolina bays in South Carolina are Dalzell Bay in Sumter, Cotton Patch Bay in Myrtle Beach, Woods Bay State Park and Heritage Preserve near Olanta. Lake Waccamaw is one in North Carolina.

There has been much speculation about the origin of the mysterious Carolina bays. Stephen Bennett, a student of the bays and contributor to the book, writes, “the theories of origin proposed to date range from far-fetched, such as the one that suggested they were ‘wallows’ of ancient sea creatures, to extraterrestrial, blaming meteor and comet collision for their presence, to those that focus on earth-bound explanations.”

Poland concludes, “Yes, bays can be intimidating, yes, origin speculation exists. Three things, however, we all agree on— Carolina bays shelter wildlife, filter and cleanse water, and provide beauty. We need to preserve undisturbed bays and restore as many altered bays as possible.”

Poland’s books can be purchased in local bookstores and online at amazon.com.

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